Quitting my job to be a poker pro is not a viable option

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My first graph takes a look at my success playing poker online over a three year period 2003-2006. It looks like I’m pretty successful at low limit Hold-’em, but not so successful that I could make a living from it. It also appears I’ve hit my limit online, and that increasing the stakes isn’t a viable option.

I played online at PartyPoker and Paradise Poker, usually sitting at two tables at once (this was possible and advisable since there’s some significant waiting time as the other 9 players at the table act. People who do this for a living will often sit at four or more tables at once, but I found that the loss of concentration and fun I suffered made that a bad choice for me). I chose full table games rather than one-on-one or short handed (six seat) games. As you can see, I won fairly consistently at about $20/hour for the entire period I played after the first few sessions while I was getting the hang of it. You can see that of 32 sessions after the ‘learning period,’ fewer than a third were losing sessions, most of those were small, and a losing session was followed by another one only once. All in all, it looks like a pretty appealing way to make money.

On the down side, playing two tables at once for a long time got to be more of a grind than a relaxing activity. With the rise of programs playing tight poker at the lower tables, games got to be much less exciting, combined with the passage of the port security bill in 2005 it seemed like a good time to quit playing online. I quit entirely after a PartyPoker player obviously cheated, admitted to doing so in the chat box. I notified PartyPoker, they reviewed the incident and declined to discipline the player. That was the end for me.

If I’d been able to duplicate my success at higher limit tables, it might have been a good idea to continue playing. However, as you can see in the next graph, moving up to $3-6 and $5-10 did not result in winning play.

One could believe that what you see here is just the “learning period” that I experienced with $2-4, but I think it’s more than that. I needed more than practice to improve at these levels. As with anything, you need to practice, but you also need to develop technique. In poker, developing those skills requires reading books and articles, tracking and analyzing past performance, and probably playing live games. And, as with all sports, this work on technique is much less exciting than actually playing. I decided it wasn’t producing enough fun or profit to do that sort of concentrated work.

Interestingly, I also tried changing from Limit Hold-’em to No Limit, and played about 125 hours online.

While I started with a lucky run, the last 100 hours of play were slightly worse than break-even online. I’m not sure why my bankroll went up, then leveled off – almost like a reverse “learning period.” I guess this is what people call beginner’s luck, and what I call attention-grabbing, but irrelevant statistical noise.


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